My local municipality recently mailed out a brochure titled “Are you ready?”. It is a guide booklet about what to do in case of a nuclear emergency. I live close to a nuclear power plant. The brochure describes radiation, how to shelter-in-place, where evacuation routes are and what to bring with you in case of an evacuation. It also contains tips on what to do to get ready before an actual emergency. Suggestions include having potassium iodide on-hand (KI is said to block radioactive iodine from entering the thyroid gland), making sure your pets have identifying tags or microchips, and more. The potential for emergency situations that require fast reactions is very real, as has been brought to the forefront of our attention by a recent onslaught of natural disasters. Getting ready, as best as possible, before an emergency is good advice that I will heed.
When disaster strikes
In late August and early September, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma devastated islands off the coast of North America and sections of the U.S. Gulf Coast and Florida. There was much damage, and tragically, lives were lost. The images that many of us witnessed are a testament to the powerful forces of nature, as well as a reassurance of the willingness of people to help each other in times of need.
The astounding flooding in the Houston area together with hurricane-force winds and loss of power posed many extreme challenges. Much press was given to Arkema’s Crosby, Tex. location, where loss of cooling caused temperature-sensitive organic peroxides to decompose and burn. According to comments from Rich Rowe, president and CEO of Arkema Inc. as posted on its website (www.arkema-americas.com), the Crosby site was prepared for emergencies with redundant contingency plans in place. In the unprecedented situation, however, the site lost primary power and two sources of emergency backup power, and thus lost the needed refrigeration to keep the peroxides at safe temperatures. This led to the decisions to let the material burn itself out and to eventually cause ignition of the remaining peroxides that had started to degrade. While the site had prepared with redundant contingency plans, even those were not enough to avoid an alarming situation under the extreme circumstances.
In a statement released by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), president and CEO Cal Dooley commented that all ACC members (of which Arkema is one) have comprehensive and well-rehearsed emergency plans. He also said that in the coming weeks after Harvey, evaluations would be made to “assess if there are additional procedures and process safety efforts that could further inform and enhance the safety performance of our operations in the future.”
With the concentration of chemical process industries (CPI) plants in the Gulf Coast region, it is a testament to their emergency planning and disaster preparedness that we did not hear of more alarming situations like the one in Crosby. It is also a testament to the workers, who in the face of extreme circumstances, followed emergency plans to safely shut down or reduce operations.
“Are you ready?” is a very relevant question for all of us, both at home and in our jobs. As more storms churn in the Atlantic Ocean at the time of this writing, we prepare for the worst and hope for the best.■